It’s true walk-behind trenchers are the perfect rental item, offering ample utility to professional contractors and weekend warriors alike. These machines are ideal for any application that requires digging in a tight space where a ride-on model can’t fit. Customers like them because the rate is reasonable, and you like them because they’re durable and, if maintained properly, can bring you a high return on investment. Utility and ROI aside, if you ask a group of operators about their experiences renting these machines, the same complaints consistently come up.
Complaints? What? Come on, don’t be surprised. Just by the nature of the work they do, walk-behind trenchers can be challenging to operate because they require a fair amount of muscle and coordination, right? Well, it’s true today’s latest models have improved greatly in terms of ease of use, but the older mechanical machines still found in many rental inventories are not a cake walk for some operators to use. To give you some insight into what frustrates your customers most about walk-behind trencher rentals, we talked to a few operators about their experiences. We also talked to leading manufacturers about product developments you might want to keep in mind the next time you choose a walk-behind for your inventory. Following are the top five frustrations your customers have with walk-behind trenchers:
Won’t dig deep enough
Thomas Hagerty, a farmer from Columbia, TN, recalls a rental experience where he specifically told the rental house he needed a machine to trench at least 24 inches. “At no place during the project was I successful in reaching a full 24 inches of depth,” he says. “The machine simply would not dig deeper than 18 inches.”
For operators that don’t use a walk-behind trencher very often, these results can be surprising and disappointing, however, manufacturers point out that in most cases the machine is, in fact, achieving the correct depth, it’s just that a certain amount of trench spoil always falls back into the trench. There are a couple of ways to combat this problem. One is to equip your trenchers with an optional crumber or trench cleaner, says Matt Collins at Ditch Witch, who explains this device fits onto the end of the boom and removes spoils from the trench floor.
Another way to minimize spoil fallback is to ensure your trencher is using the right type of chain. Jackie Leonard with Barreto Mfg. points out that in softer soil conditions, for example, a full cup chain will remove the most dirt. “Many areas have differing soil conditions within a short distrance,” she adds, “making a combo chain (cup and shark teeth) the best option. The shark teeth will handle the rocks or hard pack and the cup teeth will help to remove dirt from the trench.”
When all else fails, Jon Kuyers at Vermeer says to recommend a bigger trencher. “If your customer really needs to go to a 24-inch depth, rent them a 30-inch trencher.”
Operators get frustrated when they can’t get good traction, as this makes achieving the desired trenching depth all the more difficult. Sometimes, this is simply due to worn tires, as was the case for Hagerty. “Although the ground was damp, it was not saturated or muddy,” he recalls. “However, the tires were so worn on the trencher that it simply slipped on the grass when I attempted to achieve my desired depth.”
Raymond Bagwell, an electrical contractor from Clarksville, TN, says in his experience, the main reason for poor traction is there’s not enough weight on the wheels. “It takes a lot of traction to pull the trencher bar through the ground,” he notes. “In rocky ground, the trencher is bouncing up and down, taking weight off the wheels.”
According to Kuyers at Vermeer, it’s up to the rental yard to maintain the tires on its trenchers, but the problem of bad traction can also be chalked up to the operator’s attempt to trench too quickly. “Customers think the faster you go, the faster you trench, but it’s not true,” he says. “Customers need to be properly trained. Pulling too fast does not mean you cut any faster.”